Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Waning Days of Summer

The annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder has arrived early for me in 2010. Typically, my serotonin levels begin to drop as the days grow shorter and colder, but this year, my brain is slipping into despondency before the heat even dies. It has been a hot, wet season and that’s my wheelhouse, so I suppose it seems curious that I have chosen to take up residence in Chicago. It seems logical that if you want to fight the winter blues, maybe leaving a City that is damp and dark for nine months of the year would be your first step. What can I say? My masochism is twofold. Apparently I require the bracing, biting cold to remind me of summer’s beauty and value, and I can’t shake this morbid fascination with Illinois politics and all the carnivalesque oddities it brings.

This year, early onset SAD is hitting me in profound ways. I don’t want to let go – of the beach, the street festivals, the outdoor restaurant seating. One of my favorite sights this year has been the scene of children playing and riding bicycles until 10:00 PM, as I sit and quietly sip wine on my balcony. The season of fun and frivolity is now behind these kids. Do they feel the loss as I do?

I am also in no humor to welcome the Fall, for reasons that have nothing to do with a Peter Pan-like desire to extend fun in the sun. If it’s September, than that means we have to start taking the November elections seriously. One need not actively participate in the gamesmanship and punditry to feel the effects. Watching the evening news, picking up the paper before your morning commute, then the often frustrating act of voting, which usually means choosing the lesser of two to three evils – it’s enough to make one wish they were still underage.

Though there are many obnoxious and odd matchups in elections across the country, the State of Illinois makes a great case for having the most dispiriting contests around. Though Prairie State politics are historically dicey, we do occasionally get the proverbial Paul Simon/Barack Obama bone thrown at us.

This year, I am very sad to report, there is no such luck. One candidate after another is guilty of complete and total buffoonery. Let’s take the Governor’s race as an example. In this corner, we have sitting Executive Pat Quinn. Quinn is the sad sack who had to step in rather unceremoniously and take the reins after the ignominious fall of one Rod Blagojevich. Quinn inherited an office beset by felony convictions and deplorable fiscal irresponsibility. However, he is a good, if boring fellow, who has spent the last two years watching every plea for reform fall on a large crowd of deaf ears. Thus Illinois now carries the title of “Most Debt Ridden, Least Business Attractive,” State in the Union. This is far from Quinn’s fault in entirety, yet it is clear that it is he who must wear the crown of thorns [cue video of vociferous booing of Governor Quinn at June’s Stanley Cup rally].

Quinn’s competition for the Governor’s mansion arrives in the form of State Senator Bill Brady, a man whose strategy thus far consists of relying on the incumbent’s low polling numbers as a path to victory. Brady has adopted any means necessary to avoid the hassle of actually discussing the issues in public. The Republican’s plan to address the shortfall in revenue and human services, according to his website, includes a resolve to “cut taxes by a billion dollars, as well as reduce spending throughout the state.” With a budget deficit currently hovering around the $13 billion dollar mark, how can Brady justify cutting taxes, and what specific programs would he cut to begin to offset the already terrific revenue imbalance? Don’t know. He won’t say. Like every other good politician in Illinois, he is going to await being voted in before delineating his plans to drag us further into the red.

In the spirit of comic relief, I will briefly mention the third party, Independent Candidate for Governor, Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen had a brief flirtation with political shame and notoriety earlier this year, after winning, then promptly resigning the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor. The pawn broker was chased away from the Quinn ticket after surfacing allegations of domestic violence, prostitution, drug abuse and rage filled outbursts. Deviant behavior from a pawn shop proprietor? Never saw it coming!

I am almost too exhausted at this point to get into the Senate contest. On the left we have the Democratic Alexi Giannoulias, a once good friend of Barack Obama’s who has begun to see his calls go to voicemail since his business venture, Broadway Bank, was shut down by the FDIC this past January. What, you mean a Wall Street charlatan might not be the kind of ally for which the President is looking? Well why ever not? A man who previously failed to protect the State’s finances in his elected role as Treasurer, while simultaneously running a bank into the ground may be good at malfunction multi-tasking, but this hardly qualifies him to make decisions for the voting public on a greater scale.

Republican challenger Mark Kirk, a current U.S. Congressmen, has experienced PR infractions that appear relatively minor compared to the rest of this lot. He has since backtracked from a statement made at a 2002 House Committee hearing, where Kirk declared himself a recipient of the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award. The politician’s fib was exposed by the Washington Post in May of this year. Not so smart now, are we Kirk?

Oh and by the way, both Giannoulias and Kirk are running to fill the seat of Roland Burris, the half term Senator who may or may not have cut a deal with Blago to take the chair of newly elected President Barack Obama. Though Burris could not be prevailed upon to resign after allegations surfaced in early 2009, he has decided to decline seeking re-election in order to make room for a younger, less experienced goofball.

Pass the melatonin and another glass of wine my friends. It’s going to be a rough autumn.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Real America

It seems that the modern political trend is to never unchain ourselves from the madness of American election cycles. The moment the ballot box is emptied and the winner declared, campaigning starts anew. This leaves little time for say, governing and serving the people, which is the ostensible job of legislators. More and more it seems that our politicians look at messaging, photo ops and pandering toward the “middle” as their full-time jobs.

Thus every couple of years, we are treated to divisive, nonsense “issues” that are designed to unite each respective party’s base and distract the electorate from the truth – that since the last time we cast our votes, in effect, nothing has changed. In 2004, we were treated to Republican rhetorical humdrum about attempting to rewrite the Constitution to formally outlaw gay marriage. This was a lot easier than having to account for the systemic intelligence failures and increasing body count of the Iraq war of choice. Though the effort to insert discrimination into the Constitution would never have worked, Republic strategists got what they wanted. Their base, newly mobilized and energized by the terrifying thought that the mechanics of romantic partnership might be above their pay grade, turned out in droves to re-elect W. Because nothing, not the impending burst of the housing bubble, the long practice of corporate off-shoring that disemboweled opportunities for the American work force, or the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on unnecessary combat, is scarier than same sex couples running around willy nilly without the blessing of the far right.

I know I am coming off rather partisan here, and admittedly I lean pretty far to the left in comparison with the right-hooking trend of today’s voter. But I am equally disgusted with Democratic leadership. As it was in 2004, they have assumed the defensive position (has nobody told them they actually WON both houses of Congress in 2008?) and allowed their foes across the aisle to determine the talking points.

Instead of using the run-up to the November elections as an opportunity to clarify their positions, to explicate the complicated pieces of legislation passed in the last two years - really important work in the areas of health care and financial reform that John and Jane Q. Public have yet to fully comprehend - they are allowing the conversation to veer once again toward disharmony. Thus instead of conveying in clear bullet point fashion what health care reform really means for the average American family, how their lives and balance sheets will improve incrementally, Obama and the Democratic leadership are permitting themselves to be dragged into the Tea Party trenches. When conversation turns toward repealing the 14th Amendment say, or the current outrage du jour – the “Ground Zero” mosque plans, Democrats inevitably fumble. How happy was I when Obama stood up and declared that the planned center was the very essence of freedom of religion and unity that makes this nation great? Yet how soon that pride turned into sadness the following morning when the President flinched, bullied by Fox News into clarifying that he was not commenting on the “wisdom” of following through with the planed mosque.

Sometimes it gets so that I lose my sense of reality. Following the news cycle, reading punditry online, watching the President who was elected in a wave of “change” enthusiasm, punt on the potentially politically unpopular, it is easy to get sucked into a demoralizing listlessness. Have we all become so angry and dogmatic that there is no room for a true dialectic anymore?

However I was witness to ample evidence this past weekend, in my own backyard, that perhaps many of us are just tired of talking. It appears that if there’s one thing we can all get behind, in a mutually respective and tolerant way, it is the right to party. I watched the happenings of a two-day street festival from the comfort of my balcony. Rather than experience the event on the ground, my bird’s eye view of party goers acted as nectar for the writer’s muse.

I live in a rather eclectic and diverse community by any standard, one of the northernmost neighborhoods in the City of Chicago. The vibrant area is marked by a huge population of recent African immigrants, Latinos, artists, musicians and a sizable LGBT enclave. I wondered, given the toxic socio-political environment in which we wade, if any of the current intolerance and anger would find its way to the streets of Rogers Park. I sat for two days like an armed sentry guard, on high alert for the first signs of unrest. I was people watching until my eyes hurt. I was determined not to let anything escape my notice.

You know what I saw instead of the looked for disharmony? Good fathers with healthy children of all races and sexual orientations, with excited youngsters running into their arms. I saw older men of every religious bent drinking too much and embarrassing their wives with outdated dance moves. I saw an energetic member of the counterculture perform an impromptu rhythmic hula hoop routine to the delight of the neighborhood children. I saw kids of every conceivable background, uniting to do what kids do: chase each other around and throw trash into large puddles of water. No angry, bigoted word emerged from any corner of this raucous event.

And that’s when I wished with all my heart for recording equipment and my own national TV station. I wanted to capture this colorful embrace of summer, and life itself, and make this the headline story on the evening news. “This just in! People still know how to get along and have fun! Film at 11.” Sadly, this has become the untold story in a nation that has lost its appetite for setting the standard of civic engagement in the free world. But maybe, just maybe if we could release ourselves from the chokehold of politicians and the media, the habit of being told who we are and what we want, we could learn to enjoy each other again. Maybe if the rancor were cleared from the air, we could begin to start solving the numerous problems facing our nation. The energy is out there, and some of it, lo and behold, is hate free.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Mother’s Birthday

Today, my mother Gloria is 54 years old. I have no idea how she is celebrating, because it was nine years ago that she committed identity fraud against my sister and I, and left the family home with nothing more than the clothes on her back and her trusty carton of cigarettes. My mother is an accomplished sociopath, which I did not learn until long after she was gone. I say this without bitterness, anger or irony. It is simple fact. It took me years of therapy to be able to utter this truth without finding myself crushed by an avalanche of conflicting feelings.

This is the first time I have really opened up about this subject in writing, besides light allusions to parental dysfunction that left me with an ingrained fear of personal credit. But the only fear I have left is how my beloved sister Jen will feel about the public exposure of our mother figure’s darkest sides. However, having been raised with the twin companions of secrets and lies, I learned long ago that bottling never led me anywhere but a variety of analyst couches, and jail.

It is still hard to comprehend my mother’s reaction after I discovered a cache of unopened bills in February 2001, all addressed to my sister or I, many from companies of which I had never heard. In disbelief, confusion and the self-righteous rage that only a 22 year-old can do with justice, I confronted her with what I had found. Her reaction was thoroughly surprising, enough so that I lost my footing and my anger evaporated, as though my head were clearing enough to see Gloria for the first time. She was not at a loss for words. She was not surprised or even sheepish. She calmly put out the current cigarette she was smoking as she lit a new one. Then she looked at me as though I had finally annoyed and disgusted her beyond what her system could handle. She sighed before informing me that she had “run out of money.” Desperate times and all that.

When I recovered enough to ask her what the plan was to fix my now ruined credit, she handed me the “missing” mailbox key, walked out to her car, started the engine, and drove away. I never saw her again. She left me, a 20 year-old sister and a granddaughter who had just turned one. Gone. Poof. Like she never existed – or maybe like we never had. We were left to clean up the puddles of chaos standing in her wake.

My relationship with my mother was never what you might term “warm,” even during the “good” years, before our home became a constant battleground. In ways I only recognized much later, our mother-daughter dynamic was fraught with competition, sabotage and spite. I mean on her end, not mine. For a very long time, I just wanted to be loved, but could never figure out why that wasn’t possible. I was her daughter. Isn’t that the law of nature?

Instead I was confused when my mother would set up auditions for me (tough academic programs, choirs, theaters), only to be disappointed when I would achieve. I would be told later, through her bitter tears, that these were things she wanted as a child but was never allowed to have. So I would put that much more effort into succeeding, for both of us, only to accused later of having a “superiority complex,” even as I was made to listen to my mother bragging about her “talented daughter” to anyone who would listen. To this day, I an unable to accept a compliment, or discuss my own achievements, for fear of the speaker’s intentions, or the risk of being interpreted as an egotist. Awards received and letters of commendation written are generally shoved into a box, or between the books in my library.

This post may sound as though it is full of self-pity, the “poor me” wailings of an abandoned daughter on her mother’s birthday. But in truth, this is a day of celebration. Not having a healthy female role model in my life (or a male one either), I participated in stunted, wary relationships with other women for too many wasted years. I simply didn’t know how to relate. Mercifully, that’s all behind me. I am terribly close with my sister, have a fantastic rapport with my nieces, and have allowed aunts, female friends and professional mentors to educate me on how to bond with women in a way that doesn’t have to hurt.

This Saturday night, I will collect a journalism award from the National Federation of Press Women, a network of talented female professionals and colleagues who have accepted me as one of their own. They have shared successes, but also, and in some cases, more importantly, their mistakes. I am no longer wandering life’s highway without female guidance. It took a long time to get there, but I did.

And that award I will receive? I can tell you it’s not being shoved to the back of a bookcase this time. So happy birthday Mom. Perhaps the only gifts you left me in the end were your negative example, a model of what not to do, followed by the freedom to pick up the tatters of my life after you left without a look behind you. But I am the person I am today – neurotic and scarred certainly - but also part of a healthy family, a somewhat productive citizen, with the peace of mind to know I have never taken anything that wasn’t freely given.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Briefly Clearing the Air With Dr. Laura

No one violated your 1st amendment rights. Stop deflecting. You exercised your right, without censorship or threat of physical harm, to be a hate spewing bigot. The enlightened portion of the American public is now exercising its right to shun you.

Sarah Palin? Please shut up. You make me tired.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Confessions of a 32 Year-old Control Freak

Those of you who check-in with my work periodically, or know me personally, may be aware that I am just a wee bit of an exercise fanatic. And by “wee bit” I mean, a complete slave to my physical fitness routines. I can never quite decide if I push myself so hard because I love having an outlet for my considerable energies (and there is definitely something to that), or because I am compelled by my own phobias: weakness, aging, dependency, wasted time and potential. Somewhere in the messy recesses of my mind both schools of thought fight for dominance, but on the days where I feel grumpy, bloated and unmotivated, it’s definitely fear that keeps me going.

In 2010, I made a concerted effort to push myself harder than ever. In registering myself for an 8k race, I set out to try something in which I never fancied an interest: running. Previously believing this activity too boring and repetitive, I never realized how much I’d love it until I took myself outdoors, in the dead of winter. Forget about the bracing cold: I had serious people watching to do. I was also able to stay abreast of the latest developments in my neighborhood, and made a mid-January game of jumping over ice patches and drilling through snow drifts. All I needed was my iPod and 45 minutes. In fact some of my best thinking was often done with red cheeks, a full sweat and the open air.

From January until the end of June, I was the Little Boop that Could: running ever farther, faster and making up new courses for myself in order to sustain my interest. I’d run in the sand at the beach near my apartment. At 5 AM, I’d take a turn past the row of nursing homes on Sheridan Avenue in Rogers Park. The elderly are notoriously early risers, and a great many fascinating conversations were held as I stopped to catch my breath and imbibe a swig of G2.

One fine Saturday morning just as summer had begun, I knew something was terribly wrong. I stepped out of bed to start my day. My usual morning routine of feeding the cat, sweeping the floors and checking in with the New York Times columnists (routines are clearly huge with me) was rudely delayed by an agonizing, hot pain I felt on the underside of my right foot. I was taken aback, but as the discomfort disappeared almost as quickly as it came, I did what I always do when confronted with the possibility of my own physical limitation: I ignored it.

My trainer, the long suffering and loyal Rob, asked me nicely to stop running until we could figure out what was going on. Bah! What does he know anyway? He is only a perfect physical specimen, trainer, and veteran of the Navy’s Search and Rescue Program. I am, after all, invincible. Can’t he see that? So for the ensuing seven weeks, I disregarded every obvious signal that I should slow down on the cardio and see a doctor.

Flash forward to Sunday, August 8th, better known as the day of my 32nd birthday. After wearing insensible shoes to my birthday party the evening before, the bottom of my right foot was on fire - worse than ever. Naturally, I decided that the only thing to do was throw on a pair of flip flops and head out with my friends to a street fest. Four hours later, I could hardly walk or stand. I drew the conclusion that it might finally be time to lay off the running. Ya think?

However due to my lifelong phobia of all things medical (stories of me running from nuns with needles, and ripping IVs out of my arm in the emergency room abound), it was going to take a lot more than lameness to motivate me to seek a doctor’s opinion. This is when a ridiculously patient Rob threw his hands in the air and said, “It’s bigger than me Becky. Get an x-ray.” I wish I were able to include an image of his obvious fatigue and disgust as he uttered these words, with the resignation that can only accompany a long acquaintance with yours truly. To say I am stubborn and bull headed is an insult to the relative pliancy of that animal. Even more unendurable? I am usually not a bit sorry to be so.

When I had exhausted every conceivable option (like wishing with all my might that the injury would heal itself), I finally agreed to go to an urgent care facility after work last Friday. The doctor was very thorough, taking multiple x-rays and asking questions that clearly exposed my complicity in aggravating what was likely a minor issue at the outset.

I have deep tissue tendonitis at the front of my right foot. It is very painful and very debilitating, even though it sounds silly (and feels that way too). I have been prescribed two weeks of anti-inflammatories, with an absolute ban on any avoidable walking or standing. At the end of a fortnight, if all is not much better, then I compelled to undergo an MRI, which will likely reveal a tear requiring surgery.

So off I hobbled for the necessary quiet time to heal and castigate myself for my own stupidity. Eddie graciously offered to pick up slack around the house, and I have a group of wonderfully supportive co-workers who have generously assisted me with a variety of mundane tasks that would otherwise require movement.

Am I grateful for these blessings? Most certainly not. Instead I am angry at myself, ashamed of my dependence on others and well aware that this is a crisis of my own making. I do not even have the grace to trust my husband to manage the household in my stead. The mean part of me worries he'll just mess everything up that I have worked so hard to keep in order. And forget about setting him loose unsupervised in the grocery store. Instead I had him push the cart while I was holding onto the back of it, feet up on the rails. When you are limping through Whole Foods while wearing a pair of men’s slippers, you tend to stop worrying about your image.

General, we have met the enemy….and it is us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sh*t Jesika Said

I am not on Twitter, and I vow here and now that I never will be. I promise you the day will never come when you are able to hurl these words back at me. In the first place I don’t get it. Or maybe I do but just can’t get behind what looks to me to be the most self-serving, arrogant form of expression out there. Who am I to assume that there are legions who will hang on my every 140 character sound bite? Meh.

That said, there are a few people who have managed to evolve genuinely successful literary careers from their Twitter accounts. One such individual is Justin Halpern, the man fortunate enough to be born to a wise and hilarious philosopher of a family patriarch. Sh*t My Dad Says has morphed from a daily feed tracking one father’s off the cuff remarks, to a veritable cottage industry. This year, Halpern published a memoir of his father’s musings (of the same name) with some truly touching anecdotes woven around the random slice-of-life observations. This book spent weeks on The New York Times bestseller list (Hardcover Nonfiction), and deservedly so. Halpern Sr. is as inappropriately candid as he is educated, loving and genuine. Fathers like this well deserve their 15 minutes of fame.

On April 25, 2009, I lost one of my best friends, Jesika Brooke Thompson (above right), to a devastating and quick bought with ovarian cancer. Just 30 years old at the time of her death, an accomplished lawyer, and a wonderful daughter, partner and friend, Jesika only had 17 days between diagnosis and death to finish up the business of her life. Obviously, this isn’t nearly enough time to provide closure for oneself and a whole circle of admirers. The whole outcome still feels like a bad nightmare from which I might eventually awake.

Today, August 17, 2010, would have been my friend’s 32nd birthday. We met in 1992, at the pregnant with promise age of 14, and for the next 16 years, Jesika continued to be the most hilarious person I knew. Not of the punchline driven, stand up comedy variety either – most of the time Jesika wasn’t trying to be funny. She was organically raucous, a gift of which I was always envious. Much like Justin Halpern’s Dad, Jesika had this uniquely warped, but logical way of viewing the world that managed to get right to the heart of its rampant absurdity.

In reviewing some of the emails and messages exchanged between Jesika and I over the years, and with respect to Justin Halpern’s tome, which brought me oodles of unanticipated mirth this past weekend, I bring you the first edition of Sh*t Jesika Said.

On Temporarily Moving In With Relatives After Relocating to Chicago:
“I might not survive Joliet. My grandmother hasn't stopped talking for about 3 weeks.”

Locating a Dentally Challenged High School Rival on FaceBook:
“I found Little Miss Jump Rope floss on this thing.”

On Catching Up With Friends You Haven’t Spoken to in Awhile:
“How’s it going toots? I have had the most ridiculous couple of weeks..........it includes identity theft and Iowa. Bet you are hooked now huh?”

On Ambivalence Over Starting a Family:
“How do you feel about carrying little black babies (anything so I wouldn't have to do it)? Just kidding! But seriously…”

Discussing Current Events:
“The article was about how PETA approached Ben and Jerry's to start using breast milk in their ice cream instead of cow’s milk. Deelish!”

On Dividing Household Chores with Your Partner:
“That wouldn't work on Kevin, I have to ‘pretend’ like I'm so mad, so he gets scared into doing chores.”

Supporting My Fledgling Writing Career:
“UGH. Am I going to have to start buying StreetWise now? I need my daily Becky fix........On a side note, a co-worker of mine just grunted and farted. I need a vacation.

P.S. I'm proud of you.”

Is it any wonder I miss this woman so? I have spent the last 16 months weeping profusely at the very mention of Jesika’s name. However, in recent weeks, I have found that I am suddenly able to enjoy reminiscing with a smile – and exercise the option quite often. How selfish would I be if I didn’t share a slice of the wonderful memory I carry, with those who were not given the chance to know this fantastic lady?

Wherever Jesika’s spirit might be, I hope she is enjoying the birthday rewards deserved from a life well lived, having shared the gift of laughter with everyone she encountered.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Let Them Eat Bitterness

I live in a nice building in a not always so nice neighborhood. Two nights ago, an intoxicated member of the “99 Weekers” club took it upon himself to smash the exterior intercom unit of my residence with a baseball bat. “99 Weekers” is a cute name for a tragic situation facing growing numbers of Americans, who have exhausted the maximum unemployment insurance benefits available to them, 99 weeks, without the end result of finding new and meaningful employment.

These individuals don’t want a handout, they want a job, but with increasingly anemic private sector growth, face the prospect of finding themselves permanent members of the new underclass. Without income and with dwindling marketable skills, the disenfranchisement of these former members of the middle is slowly turning to misplaced anger, directed not at the government or corporations, who are ultimately responsible for the nation’s tailspin. Instead we are witnessing the beginning of a modern day class war, waged between the frustrated and desperate “have nots” and the perceived “haves.”

Let me be clear: I am not a “have.” I experienced a childhood of abject poverty marked by abuses and neglect of the most harrowing kind. Be that as it may, I get that my comparatively fancy rental can offer an easy target to a drunken individual who has spent another fruitless day looking for work. On his way home to face an expectant family, knowing he must check his ever diminishing manhood at the door once again, I can understand the urge to displace on an inanimate object. Intercoms can be repaired and I hope that this hasty act provided some form of comfort.

In discussing this incident with a co-worker, the subject of the palpably rising anger of ordinary Americans came up. My office mate astutely observed that we appear to be on the verge of a modern day French Revolution. Only viewed through the cracked prism of America’s toxic partisan politics “holy war,” we are miscasting the players with dangerous consequences.

For example, Michelle Obama is being pigeonholed by the right as the 2010 understudy to Marie Antoinette. The chum being tossed to the public by members of the Republican party, are the images of Michelle’s lavish private vacation to Spain that made the viral rounds last week. Mrs. Obama is a private citizen and does it come as a surprise to anyone that the first family has money enough? Before moving into the White House, both of the Obamas had thriving legal careers and a beautiful home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. If the First Lady can afford some time away from the relentless stress of being Barack’s wife, why should we draw erroneous conclusion that she is somehow ignorant of the suffering of normal Americans? This is a logical fallacy being peddled by those who would love it if we could be distracted enough to take our eyes off the real problem: legislative paralysis enabled by corporate kowtowing.

The real Marie Antoinettes in our story are people like former Nixon speechwriter and TV personality Ben Stein, who was quoted recently as saying “The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities…I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work.”

Out of touch much Mr. Stein?

Or how about GOP Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called a $20 billion victims’ fund negotiated by the Obama administration for those who have been put out of work in the Gulf, and funded by BP, “extortion.”

No wonder our most currently beloved pop cultural hero is former Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, who assumed his rightful place in the media zeitgeist this week by engaging in the most flamboyantly fabulous resignation of all time. After being hit in the head with a piece of overhead luggage one time too many, Mr. Slater decided he couldn’t wait for the plane to taxi to the gate before telling passengers and co-workers where to stick it. Instead he grabbed the microphone and a beer, saying his piece before deploying the emergency slide - sailing out of the plane and into the hearts of millions of Americans - who applauded Slater’s actions with enthusiasm that only be described as wish fulfillment.

However what really crystallized the idea that we may in fact be headed toward a massive, violent populist uprising was a recent article I read by David Stockman, President Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. Yes, the following words came from a disgusted member of old guard, “true” and fiscally conservative Republicanism:

“The day of national reckoning has arrived…we will see a class rebellion, a new revolution, a war against greed and the wealthy….It’s a pity that the modern Republican party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach – balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline – is needed more than ever.”

In other words, my building’s intercom box is only the beginning...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

30, Flirty and Fabulous!

This is my little sister Jen, included with an inset photo of a cheese danish. That is a long story, but the short update we have for the day is that it's her 30th birthday!!!!

If you have a moment, post a wish for the hottest MILF I know.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dancing with Myself

I had the oddest and oftentimes, the loneliest birthday weekend I can recall. But that seems fitting as we are collectively in the midst of one of the oddest, most lonely epochs confronting the nation. I saw the apprehension and confusion of the country reflected on the faces of my network of friends and family – more of whom are searching for work than actively employed.

The festivities got off to a rough start on Friday evening. Eddie unveiled the news that he has six to eight weeks before his services are no longer needed at the Chicago company where he works as a contractor. Instead of keeping IT development in-house, they are going to outsource to a consulting company in order to conserve cash. Two months is plenty of cushion for Eddie to find a new job, and we are used to this sort of uncertainty in his field, but of course the big question is whether or not he'll be forced to travel again. We don't like that prospect much at all, having spent the nine months of our engagement apart, the first year and a half of our marriage, etc.

So Eddie had the weekend away from being the slave to work he has been recently, and for all those hours of devotion, he was rewarded with a hearty “thanks” and the need to start the hustle all over again. The market is still awful as we all know, but as contractors are glorified, overpaid gypsies willing to board a plane to anywhere, they always land on their feet. They just may not know where their feet actually are when they wake up in the morning, and this pattern is certainly disruptive to marital harmony.

Though I am well aware that we’re luckier than many, I was a little bummed. Then some ridiculous family drama occurred that isn't even worth laying out in detail. But I do have a question: why can’t dilemmas in my family be of the usual kind: pregnancy, divorce, he said/she said arguments. Must they ALWAYS involve one or more felonies?

But I digress. Friday was definitely draining and killed the buzz I started with my friend David, when we left the office early at 3:00 to grab an early birthday drink.

In fact I spent most of the weekend drunk, an idea that would have left me satisfied in my 20s, but this year rendered me bloated, dehydrated, depressed and feeling rather unaccomplished. Sunday the 8th was my actual birthday, and I made plans to duck out with a group of friends to the annual Market Days festival in Boys Town, so Eddie could job hunt in peace. I tried to regain my birthday momentum that morning, feeling I owed it to the gay community. After all, last week saw the empowering strike down of Prop 8 by a Federal court. The weather in Chicago was hot and humid, and with the thrill of victory, the LGBT community was more prepared than usual to party half naked.

My friends and I arrived separately, leaving me with over an hour to wander the festival grounds solo, admiring for the first time in many years the wonderful, colorful, sexy spectacle of it all. It was over 90 degrees at 6:30 PM and I was surrounded by beautiful, dancing men. Things could definitely be worse. I pulled my wild curly hair off my neck, got a class of cold champagne and let my senses be inundated.

Ostensibly, I had called my pals to Market Days to catch the closing musical act of the weekend – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Ms. Jett has lost absolutely nothing since her 80s heyday in terms of look, magnetism and talent. A free concert starring a real rock star on my birthday. How could I resist? The set was due to start at 8:00, and around 7:30, I started needling my buddies that we should head over to the main stage. For a variety of reasons, my pleas went unheeded.

By 8:15, the time we finally begin to migrate toward the stage, trying to shuffle more than a few inches reminded me very much of trying to walk a straight line though the streets of Mumbai – sweaty, claustrophobic work. I held hands with my mates and wanted very much to steer the group toward the perimeter, where we could breathe and at least listen to the music. We couldn’t see anything pinned against a dense row of bodies anyway. But there was no appetite for this amongst my (by now) heavily intoxicated friends. At some point, I found myself separated from the group and waited for a reunion call or text message from the right side of the overflowing portable toilets, but this call never came. I finished my current drink to the wailing strains of “Bad Reputation” and “Cherry Bomb” before catching a cab back home.

When I arrived home at 9:30 PM, I thought Eddie might be free. He said he was getting to work when I walked out the door at 4:30. Later, he claimed an early case of “writer’s block,” that rendered him useless until 7:30, but I suspect this “block” arrived in the form of a nap or a Bollywood movie from Netflix. In any case, it seemed my return home was an ill-timed irritant.

By now truly intoxicated and disgruntled (can’t a girl get a little attention on her birthday!?), I poured myself another glass of wine and strapped on my iPod. I made my way to the balcony toward the rear of our apartment, and as I walked, inspiration struck! I had been denied companionship, affection and live music this weekend, but I would after all have the celebration of my life I sought. I made a playlist that began with the first songs I could remember loving as a child: “Xanadu” (Olivia Newton-John), “Celebration” (Kool & The Gang) and “Ride Like the Wind” (Christopher Cross). I worked my way through the decades: through Madonna, Whitney Houston, Survivor, Patty Smyth, Dr. Dre, New Kids on the Block, TLC and ended up at Justin Bieber (yes, I adore “Somebody to Love” – suck it), Rihanna and Kings of Leon.

Did I mention that this musical retrospective of my life came replete with dancing? Oh yeah baby. I was getting down on my balcony and lip synching as though my very life depended upon it. After awhile, I started noticing blinds being drawn up on a few of the windows across the street. Fine. I was not going to let self-consciousness end the first truly good, abandoned time of the weekend. So on I danced, and as I did so, snatches of memory flashed through my mind, each new song bringing its own associations. Some made me laugh and smile. More than a few brought tears. I am certain that I appeared for the entire world to be in the midst of a schizophrenic breakdown, but it was cathartic and reminded me that I had lived. Despite the loneliness that currently threatened to overtake my spirit, I existed. I had been places and done things – all of which took up valuable real estate in my consciousness. I could recall these associations and wade in them through the medium of interpretive dance.

After two hours of this mad reminiscing, I wore myself out (naturally), drank a Gatorade, popped a couple Advil and went to sleep. I wasn’t worried about what I had done without any longer. I was raring to get up the next morning to begin the next 32 years of my life. What would the soundtrack to those years sound like?

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Today is the 32nd birthday of everyone's favorite blogger, Ms. Becky Boop. Ms. Boop has spent countless hours writing informative posts that give us insight into her political stance, pop culture knowledge, struggles with marriage/babies/family and the like, etc. Lets face it, we know quite a bit about her (and possibly more than we should). That said, I decided to take this opportunity to give you a list of 32 things you actually MAY NOT know about Boop.

  1. Boop has a thing for the number 8. You would too if you were born on 8/8/78 and weighed in at 8 lbs 8 oz.
  2. Other than going to college, Boop has never lived outside of the Chicagoland area and likely never will. Any questions on the great city of Chicago and you can count on her for an answer.
  3. She once had a bent (not broken, but actually bent) bone in her arm because a too-heavy neighborhood pre-teen fell on her arm while playing outside.
  4. Boop was kissing boys behind the piano in Kindergarten. So glad that trait seems to have skipped a generation. To my knowledge, KK has kissed no one.
  5. In 8th grade, Ms. Boop had an unfortunate run-in with sewer water in the grade school gymnasium. Perhaps this is the root of her ….
  6. Having an obsession to have everything neat and tidy. You will NEVER see a pile of ANYTHING just laying around on a table at Boop's house. BUT:
  7. She is a digital pack rat. If you have ever written Boop a scathing email or disclosed anything immensely personal in a document or email, she most certainly still has it AND the ability to use it against you.
  8. Boop absolutely cannot wait to start eating once she arrives at a party. If the food is not readily available when she walks in the door, you will immediately be asked about it and reminded of how she is "starving and didn't eat all day because she figured there would be food" when she got there. Which leads me to my next item
  9. She is very impatient
  10. Boop loves the color green and hates the color pink
  11. She is a recovering salt-aholic
  12. Ms. Boop rocks the karaoke mic. My personal favorite rendition is her "I Love Rock and Roll"
  13. If she had it her way she would always wear jeans and a t shirt. Or better yet, sweat pants and a Cubs hat. She's uber casual
  14. Though she is clearly extremely intelligent and amazing with words, she sucks at Scrabble
  15. Do not give Boop a birthday gift unless you are at her house. If the gift is given at a restaurant/bar/club it WILL get left in the cab on the way home
  16. Boop has previously worn the uniform of Wendy's, Fazolis, and Bob Evans. I don't recall ever getting any free food from her though. Damn.
  17. She also once worked at an…eh hem…."adult" entertainment store. EEP!
  18. Boop had a poster of Patrick Swayze in her bedroom as a pre-teen.
  19. She hates eggs
  20. Boop still has a pair of boots that she got in high school. Wowzers!
  21. Boop's favorite holiday is Halloween
  22. She was unlike any other older sister I knew because she never cared that I tagged along with her and her friends. I am still friends with some of "her" friends to this day
  23. Boop used to be fearless at a theme park or carnival. Now the sight of a merry-go-round makes her dizzy and vomit.
  24. I'm pretty sure Boop can spell anything. I would like petition for there to be an adult division at the Scripp's spelling bee so I can watch her own the competition on national television
  25. Boop had a crush on JC Chasez long before he was a member of N'SYNC. We're talking way back in the New Mickey Mouse Club days. He's still hot, BTW.
  26. Boop once attended some sort of cocktail party that Alicia Keys was also at before she "made it big"
  27. She seldom has more fun than when she is making fun of someone's clothes/hair/makeup. You do it too and you know it!
  28. Boop will be the first to tell you she is severely lacking in artistic talent. Ask her to draw you a stick person and your likely response will be "What is that, a boat?"
  29. On a humid day, she will immediately make an excuse for her hair being extra curly even though whomever she is speaking too wishes they had locks like that.
  30. Boop ALWAYS has a mani, a pedi, and perfectly groomed eyebrows
  31. She loves Nutella to the point where, if it were possible to wed a food product, she would.
  32. Ms. Boop will one day be a best selling author.

Okay, so that last one is more of a premonition on my part, but the rest of it is all true. Happy birthday to my favorite (only) sister, Becky Boop!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Obama’s “Bad Blood” with Business

Much has been made recently of the strained rapport between the Obama administration and corporate interests. Various talking heads and opportunistic Republicans have seized upon the trumped up “war” between the President and Big Business as the cause of everything from the consistently high unemployment rate (“corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”), to hard times for small business (“Obama’s desire to let tax cuts for the wealthy expire harms entrepreneurship”), and even, to my incredulity, the fallout from the BP oil spill. For example, the UK’s new Business Secretary, Vince Cable has been quoted as saying of Obama’s rampant criticism of BP’s actions before, during, and after the deep well explosion, “the president talks in a cheap way about 'kicking ass'. Whether or not the American president can kick our asses, he can certainly hurt our wallets and purses.”

Thank you Mr. Cable for your ever so enlightened inclusion of ladies’ “purses” in your corporate lament. We now see you for the truly forward thinking, fair-minded guy you are (cue laugh track).

Even the “liberal media” has enjoyed taking the issue apart. Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press featured a panel discussion this past weekend including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Greenspan, while rightly declaring the state of the economy to be “touch and go,” also added "The financial system is broke and I see we just stay where we are. There's nothing out there that I can see which will alter the level of unemployment."

As soon as the former Chairman uttered these words, I gleefully clapped my hands together and waited for host David Gregory to give him the what for. After all, that is what the incomparable and disinterested Tim Russert would have done. But the moment never arrived. How can Greenspan credulously state that he “sees nothing out there” to act as a positive force on current unemployment rates, at a time when Big Business is posting record profits, and holding onto wads of cash?

Companies like Adobe, AirTran, Honda – even the once shaky banks and mortgage lenders who needed a taxpayer bailout are suddenly right as rain. With all this good news, why isn’t a stronger bottom line leading to improvements for long struggling job seekers? As I perused The New York Times last week, suddenly the answer became clear:

Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts

Writer Nelson D. Schwartz declares, “Many companies are focusing on cost-cutting to keep profits growing, but the benefits are mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy, as management conserves cash rather than bolstering hiring and production.” On so very many levels, this makes me ill. Seems to me that instead of focusing on the trumped up antagonism between Obama and corporations, we should be talking about how Fortune 500 establishments have become the tormenter of American families.

So to return to my earlier question, how did the rumor that the Obama administration is the enemy of business get started, and more importantly, why is it being perpetuated? From where I’m sitting, it seems that it’s never been a better time to be a CEO, if not a regular working stiff. In addition to the record profiteering, I don’t recall Obama slamming the door in the faces of banks, automakers and other industries that showed up on Capitol Hill with a tin cup begging for change.

Probing a little further, it seems that the convoluted health care and financial reform bills could be the tacit excuse. Big Business would have you believe that the runaway regulations being passed by the “socialist” President are the root cause of its persecution complex (see first paragraph - “corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”).

Pardon my French, but what a bunch of horse shit. If anything, President Obama hasn’t done nearly enough to roll back the heady days of Clinton/Bush deregulation. I believe I am not alone in my frustration - having to listen to the tiny violin playing martyrdom of corporations, even as they pop champagne over record profits, commending themselves for delighting shareholders on the backs of the jobless masses.

If the Obama administration has been the arch nemesis of business, how much worse off would the nation be if he acted as a friend?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lessons in Lindsanity: Or, How to Wear Orange with Grace

Lindsay Lohan’s release from a Los Angeles jail at 1:35 AM yesterday morning, after serving just 13 days of a 90 day sentence, annoys me.

Please tell me how this woman will EVER learn her lesson? And by “lesson,” I do not mean that the hopeless train wreck should have been “scared straight” by her days in the clink, nevermore to find herself on the wrong side of the law. None of us are na├»ve enough to expect that, and in fact I look forward to the evidence of Lohan’s recidivism with relish. This is, after all, her second trip to the pokey at the ripe old age of 24.

What Ms. Lohan should have learned by now after a dizzying amount of arrests, lawsuits, and video images documenting the rampant drug habit that only she and her mother are delusional enough to deny, is how to be smarter with her lawbreaking. And please Lindsay, if you can’t manage to do that, and insist on sporting “fuck you” nail polish to court, at least have the wherewithal to expect the book to be thrown at you.

But it’s clear, against all logic, that Lohan was genuinely shocked to discover that the laws of the little people also apply to her. Thus the widely circulated You Tube video of Lindsay’s sentencing hysterics on July 7th. This reminds us of the equally humorous “Mommy, it’s not fair!” ejaculations unleashed on the court by Paris Hilton three years ago, before she was hauled away pursuant to a DUI conviction, for a brief stay in the same jail.

Would I be totally perverse if I welcomed the increase in she-celebrity incarceration as evidence of feminist gain? There was a time, not too many decades ago, when ladies were deemed too “soft” to handle the psychological and physical torments of jail, particularly members of the well-to-do crowd. Small crimes committed by women were thus either covered up or ignored, and this might have been fine except for the maddening and condescending implication that female criminals were not self-aware enough to comprehend their actions. Those of us who want equal rights must not cherry pick the situations were they should apply. Therefore, I truly applaud the fine work of the L.A. court system, which has made inmates out of not only Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, but also Nicole Richie, Michelle Rodriguez and a host of other bad girl celebs.

I am pleased to say that Richie and Rodriguez took their lumps like the tough girls they are. Lohan and Hilton, as we have already affirmed, not so much. The pathetic lack of fortitude displayed by Lohan throughout her two-week stay in the Big House, punctuated by late night wailing, catatonic despair and the ironic continuation of the drug abuse that landed her there in the first place (Adderall and Ambien among the list of approved “medications”) leads me to dislike her more than the thoughtless and dangerous actions that warranted the initial attention of the 5-0. Though I will never be proud of my own visit to jail in the summer of 1999, I can at least satisfy myself with the certainty that when trouble and I found each other, I dealt with it as a chastened adult.

Before being picked up in the small town of Kentland Indiana, on August 9, 1999 – the day after my 21st birthday - I often wondered what I would do if the moment arrived. If I found myself in hock with the law, would I panic and break down? Kentland (population 1,822), part of Newton County, outdoes Mayberry in stereotype, with its stated distrust of “big city folks.” While driving back from a weekend celebration in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I was pulled over by a Conservation Officer (whom I dubbed “Fish Cop” behind his back), who actually had to call in another patrolman with the authority to arrest me. It is, my friends, a fine thing to have to filibuster and make small talk with the man ruining your day, while he waits for the authorized cavalry to come slap the cuffs.

Because I had just turned 21 and was, by any measure, a complete moron, I was breezily speeding down the highway at a clip of 80 MPH while simultaneously smoking a “happy birthday to me” joint. I was but minutes from the Illinois border, en route to the University campus at Urbana-Champaign, a place where the marijuana laws were much more forgiving to students such as I.

My bad luck to be picked up in Indiana. My worse luck that I had just come from a shopping spree at a renowned head shop in Michigan. When the fish cop asked if he could take a look in my trunk, this is what he found: an 1/8 ounce of weed, a six pack of beer, incense, a new and unused gas mask, three bowls of all materials (glass, wood and stone), and a brand new water pipe (more commonly called a “bong,” for those of you who actually studied in college).

Thus when Fish asked me to pop open my trunk, tipped off as he was by another motorist, I had no recourse other than to approve his request. Unlike Lindsay Lohan, I was not however, taken aback when I found myself snugly encased afterward in a pair of form fitting silver bracelets, and led to the back of a squad car.

I wish I had a copy of my mug shot for posterity but the Newton County jail is pretty stingy about souvenirs. This bad humor did not however stop a bunch of officers from posing jovially with the armloads of contraband they had snatched from my vehicle. They even had the bad taste to enjoy themselves in my line of vision as I was printed and booked. Abu Ghraib anyone? I have oft suspected that not all the “evidence” found its way to the locker that evening.

I cooled my heels in jail overnight, before my angry and embarrassed mother came to bail me out the next morning. My cell mates - three prostitutes and a crack head - could not have received me more cordially had it been their own parlor, rather than county lockup. They handed me the best reading material in their possession, and informed me of the unlimited calls I could make. Things definitely could have been worse.

In the end, I paid a $1000 fine for my indiscretions, and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. After a full year of good behavior, my probation period ended and my record was wiped clean. Know why? Because I kept my nose clean (pun intended Lohan!) and didn’t make myself more annoying to the law than I already had. I finished school, paid my debt to society and most importantly of all, didn’t cry about it. I had been caught red handed. What was the point? I won’t say I never smoked pot again, but I sure didn’t indulge while operating a moving vehicle. Lesson learned.

Making a lot of noise over my deserved punishment would have made it that much harder for myself and everyone I loved to put the incident behind them and move on. Do you hear that Lindsay? It’s called taking responsibility. I owed those who believed I was on my way to life as a hardened convict, the strength of character to bear my sentence with a modicum of composure.

I wish she had served the full 90 days of her sentence. Maybe that extra time would have served to break and humble her, which is really what a situation like this requires.